I was five the first time I sat on a piano bench. My mom pointed at the keys and said, “Learn this instrument. You will carry it with you the rest of your life.” As a five year-old, her words were worth nothing. I was merely captured by the cacophony of noises that could be made by erratically slamming the keys. The music must have sounded like a nightmare, but I remember my mom’s smiles of encouragement.
I grew up; the piano grew with me. The piano went from a rusty upright to a sparkling baby-grand. Fumbled attempts at “Chopsticks” and “Mary had a Little Lamb” smoothed out into streams of Chopin’s Mazurka and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodies.
October came and the air was crisp and smelled like fall. I came home one night to see my mom’s back straight. “Grandma has shingles; the doctors say that she has less than two moths,” She choked. I remember being confused and frustrated, feeling helpless. I walked away to the place where I always felt safe and in control. The piano gleamed as usual, but the luster now seemed grotesque. Grandma loved the piano, but she couldn’t play it anymore. A sick feeling of guilt overcame me.
I sunk down on the bench with a loud creak, gazing at the keys that had always had the answers. Placing my fingers on their smooth surface brought a sense of familiarity, like hugging the same tattered teddy bear you’ve had all your life. The edge of a sheet of music was peaking out from behind a well-worn scale book. I read the title: “I Can Only Imagine.” Suddenly, filled with a sense of duty and purpose at finding Grandma’s favorite song, my fingers began to play. I fumbled along the new notes, but the melody was there, and I could feel Grandma there too.
Three weeks later, I visited Grandma for the last time. The sight of her in a hospital gown was one of the most painful images I’d ever seen. Her body was frail; she couldn’t speak above a whisper. The sparkle in her eyes was gone, and I wanted it back.
The day before we left, I helped her emaciated body into a wheelchair and rolled her to the concert hall. I parked her chair and went to the piano.
I placed my fingers on the keys just like I had done for the past nine years. The music flowed like a rich melody. Every emotion I had was put into that piece. I was pleading for Grandma’s recovery, but I was also saying goodbye. At the piece’s climax, I turned to look at Grandma. Her face was moist, and tears were streaming, but her smile was stronger than I had seen all week. I could taste salt; I was crying too.
Two weeks later Grandma died.
I believe in music. I believe the piano’s power and its ability to change lives. I believe in my music, and it has changed lives.
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